Alles neu ...

macht der Mai, as the German proverb goes. You will have noticed that this revolutionary month is being preempted in this blog, which is revamped in everything but its looks. Nonetheless, you should not experience any untoward behaviour, except for the old problem of addressing individual posts which still carry no .html ending. Let me know if you do all the same.

There's more news to report: My recent birthday was celebrated among a very exclusive circle in very nice surroundings. Don't worry if you were not invited - nobody was. There will be other partying opportunities soon, I promise. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone for your kind wishes!

You will never guess what I've got as a birthday present. Hint: It's in the picture. My sister gave me a meteorite! It's an amazing piece of metal (an iron nickel alloy, in fact) originating from the planet Mars, and it has come down in Siberia in 1947 I am told. The exact profile will be posted when I get it. Also, I got what probably amounts to several grams of nicotine, but in the more pleasant form of cigars, and a couple of other great items. Thanks, again!


Print your own!

If you still feel the occasional urge to send physical instead of electronic mail, you don't have to keep a stack of stamps around any more. Webstamp enables you to print your own - you can even insert your own pictures into the stamp. The production process is really smooth & simple. The yellow square covers some information bits which represent a valid stamp that I've just printed. Great stuff! The service is free and you get a CHF 5 start credit when you open your account.

However, there are some inconveniences still, which I hope will be amended really soon - we'll see. At least, a very nice lady at Postmail said that product management would look into those suggestions:
  • Whilst the service generally works on Safari, it's obviously not optimised. Most embarrassingly, you cannot recharge your account very comfortably. This is a major issue, of course.
  • I'd like to know precisely what data is coded into that stamp.
  • You are limited to fixed postage amounts, and you are not supposed to put more than one webstamp on any item. This is also a major inconvenience, for instance if you want to send a parcel or an international letter. This needs to be changed with top priority!
  • It would be convenient to be able to keep more than just one picture stored in your account at any time. How about enabling flickr references?

  • My assessment: Great idea, but not unequivocally usable right now.


    Instant obsolescence or Marx & Orwell

    The Financial Times Magazine has a excellently written article on blogging, which makes a viably sceptical point about blogging, for a change (via SM).

    Speaking of the blogosphere, or whatever it is supposed to be called in Mr. Butterworth's opinion, I'd like to put two hippi-esquely idealistic quotes by Dave Winer from a recent episode of Rocketboom into searchable format:

    "If you are an amateur, you have less reason
    not to tell the truth - your truth."

    ... and in the same vein ...

    "Writers who work for others have less integrity to offer
    than those who do it for love."


    Infrared desktop

    Here's my new desktop picture, as blogged directly from flickr. Kudos to Camil Tulcan!

    Also, in order to relieve the horror vacui in this post, may I refer you to this great new album just out by Michael Talbott & the Wolfkings. Considerably less contemporary, but of of all the more incredible quality are these albums with songs by John Dowland that have arrived today in the mail: In Darkness Let Me Dwell and Care-Charming Sleep. You know you need them!

    Remember the fifth of November

    Having missed the one or two official screenings of V for Vendetta around here, I was forced to gain access to that movie by other means ... and it was very much worth while! V for Vendetta is a rather quirky & sophisticated blend of Zorro and George Orwell's 1984, with some 16th century English history thrown in for good measure. The scene is set in London, which is under totalitarian control of Chancellor (not Prime Minister) Sutler, in the not too distant future, as recurring references to avian flu, terrorist acts and closed tube stations eerily indicate.

    It reminded me a little bit of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I wanted to see again, but it was never shown here. What's wrong with that?!?



    Watch out, this is a podcast of sorts! Well, kinda, it is a blog post with an attached audio file, but there you are. I went to check out Alex Hendriksen's (still no web site to link to!) new band Etymon at the bird's eye tonight. The four guys (Alex sax / flute, Assen Doykin piano, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz bass / oud & Mathias Kuenzli percussion) met at Berklee in Boston, and now they're doing a chamber music world jazz with strong eastern European and arabic influences. It's powerful stuff, check out the attached sample (with permission, and sorry about the sad recording quality).

    Etymon will be recording professionally next week with the CD expected some time in autumn. Watch this space, and remember the name!


    Fish 'n Chips

    Here is an interesting OECD paper about the secondary market for domain names. It contains a fairly intricate market definition, according to which the market is estimated to be worth some USD 400 Mio p.a. So, what about that fish? Well, it's hard to believe looking at it, but fish.com seems to have fetched a winning bid of over USD 1 Mio last year!


    Survey New Media

    The Economist features a great survey New Media in its latest edition. I've only read part of it to date, but already the summary of 500something years of media history in two paragraphs is worth checking it out!

    Cablecom out of line

    Are you a Cablecom internet customer? Then you're certainly happy about their recently announced bandwidth hike for the same price.

    The problem lies in the spin they're putting on it, however, especially on a legally relevant document such as an invoice. I am being invoiced for hispeed 5000 from 1 April to 30 June, although at this point which is well into the period, I am still only getting 2000 Kbit/s of service. Charging for a better service than what is actually delivered is not only unethical, it could even be considered to be illegal. That's what I have complained about to Cablecom, and I suggest you do the same.


    China vs. India?

    On the occasion of his ongoing visit to the USA and, more specifically, Microsoft, the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party is quoted saying that he is a friend of Microsoft because Mr. Gates is a friend of China.

    This raises the question of the geo-strategic implications of Steve Jobs' delayed trip to India!

    Easter rabbit

    I haven't introduced you yet to my biggest Easter rabbit to date, which I've got from my sister! It's a beauty, isn't it. It weighs almost 2 kilos, and it has been specially made by Rieder's. All the same - it's bound to have a very short life! But I am definitely not going to have this one by myself - applications for a chocolate party are still taken.


    European Pensions

    You may or may not be interested to follow my firm's fledgling corporate blog for which I have been collecting materials for a bit now. One thing is for sure: It will be even more boring than Captain's Log already is!


    Word crash

    Ever since the update to Mac OS X 10.4.6 installed (flawlessly), my version of Microsoft Word 2004 started crashing on me whenever trying to open an existing document. I tried everything I could think of (short of reïnstalling the system - we're not Windows, after all), but nothing helped. So, this morning I decided to ask the Support Forum at Apple, and guess what: I had a solution within 4 hours! Thanks, Whoopy!

    The solution consisted in - arcanely enough - replacing the new (sic!) version of the German Hyphenation Dictionnary files with an old version. How sick is that!?! One more proof that you want to eradicate whatever Microsoft infestation you have on your system!


    Oops ...

    Oh no! Yet another anniversary missed - more specifically, this weblog's second on April 11. Interestingly, this is the 778th post in almost as many days. And more to come!


    The Meltdown

    Tonight, I went to see Ice Age 2 with W & T. While it remains an exceptionally well made and funny movie, the novelty value of the concept already begins to fade with our ever fickle desire to be entertained and monumental expectations incited by the first movie. Don't get me wrong: IA2 sure is worth seeing all the same, if only for the scrat's short trip to nut paradise - note the reference to Michelangelo's Creation of Adam there. There's just a slight lingering sense of disappointment ...


    Early days, late nights

    Today, I had to get up at an unusual time. My receiver was still tuned in to BBC Radio 4, so I heard for the first time how the World Service, which takes care of the night shift, hands over to Radio 4 again at 0530h UTC. Like a sunrise, this is almost worth getting up early for: You get a full five minutes of a very pleasant medley of British folk tunes. Doing a bit of research to look for that piece, I found out that this has been going on for 33 years now, and that it was, in the words of the HHGG, scheduled for demolition earlier this year, had it not been for these guys! I say! They mounted a campaign for an old hat piece of music, broadcast at an unearthly hour, and they were successful! Only in Britain...

    But that's not all! On the same single, there is another well known tune, namely Sailing By, which precedes the Shipping Forecast. This is probably the most boring radio programme ever (unless you are a sailor, of course), and I am sure you will agree if I give you its most spectacular moment to date, broadcast on 10 January 1993: Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey. Southwest hurricane force 12 or more. That's it! Nonetheless, it serves one purpose splendidly: It puts me to sleep almost instantaneously, which is no doubt due to its set rhythm, calm enunciation, and list of characteristic names from around Britain that make it sound quite poetic when broadcast. I was rather thrilled to read Wikipedia's section on the Shipping Forecast's influences on popular culture. Ah, simple pleasures ...

    For completeness' sake, let me refer to two other recordings that I am currently listening to, both of them distinctly more contemporary (i.e. Jazz): Pamela's Parade is a great netlabel release. Les ventilateuses is really smart. And then, I did something I haven't done in a while: I bought a physical CD: Stoa. Evidently, ECM is one of the very few labels which can still afford to not be online even today: their productions have a distinctive sound, which you don't get anywhere else, and that's true for Stoa. More about that later.


    Web celebs

    Who'd have thought! These guys are quite possibly the first Chinese web celebrities to catch The Economist's eye - and rightly so. Their pop mockeries are hilarious.


    Trivial pursuit

    81 factoids from the fairest isle of isles! For starters, have a look at Banksy's latest that was seen earlier today in Soho, but swiftly removed by Westminster Council, according to this (via Smart Mobs). I really like this one, and I can easily imagine copies of it turning up in souvenir shops in no time. I'll have one, please!

    But that's just the first one. Get the other eighty from HMW Royal: On the occasion of HM QE II's forthcoming 80th birthday (on April 21st for those of you who want to send her a card), the Palace has issued a collection of eighty trivial facts about her. Did you know that Mr. Blair was the first PM born during her reign (9)? Or that HM has sat for 139 official portraits (38), only one of which is a hologram (39)? Or, astonishingly, that the Queen has sent her first email already in 1976 (53) - hey, yet another anniversary: 30 Years of Royal Email! And that kind of fits nicely with the introductory picture ...

    While we're at it, and to round things off nicely, check out a fine Bob the Builder-style animation in Ricky Gervais' podcast.


    War of words

    The New Yorker has an interesting article about The Iran Plans (via bb) which are currently being mulled over by the Bush administration. The plans appear to consist of massive air strikes an strategic facilities, but without significant ground operations. Those air strikes would include the deployment of tactical nuclear arms. It is assumed that such attacks would destabilise the regime and lead to a change, which is said to be the ultimate goal.

    I am not sure what to make of this. While such strikes would still be in line with my prediction, I'd prefer to think that the article is part of an ongoing war of words to test the other side's resolve. I really cannot imagine that a replay of the WMD game used in the Iraq case would work this time round, short of a convincing smoking gun. First, the arrangement with India has virtually vaporised any remaining fragile legitimacy of the NPT regime. Then there's the Cry Wolf lack of credibility which ought to make parliaments much more difficult to convince. I'd be prepared to wager some money on Mr. Blair's political survival if he tried to bring the UK to join the alliance of the willing again. I cannot see that happening. And in the current situation, I wouldn't even want to start thinking about the wider strategic implications of such a move, even without using nuclear arms.

    Thus, if it is war of words, it is not really credible and thus dilettantic. On the other hand, knowing the current administration's dilettantism, combined with its messianic thrust, the risk of such a move being put into action might seem to be very real indeed, especially since the administration has nothing much to lose in terms of reputation. So, is there a method to the madness, one wonders?


    So, I am back from Frankfurt. The photo stream can be viewed here - comments welcome, as always.

    There's not much to say about a three days trip of which two days were solid with a conference. I did however take out the Saturday to explore the city, which I haven't seen before. It really does honour to its nickname Mainhattan (its river Main + the skyline). I've been thinking about how I would sum up the city's charm in one word, and I guess scrubbed would be that word - I'll say no more. Apart from walking the streets, I also saw two exhibitions at Schirn Kunsthalle: The Youth of today and an extraordinary display of Max Beckmann's watercolours and pastels. It will not be necessary to tag the pictures I took in those two exhibitions - the exhibits speak for themselves. One funny thing, though, which I was told when I was well into taking pictures: You do of course need a permission to take pictures, which is available for free from the till. You just need to leave your personal details. Isn't that a very German thing? Control freaks ...

    Not quite so controlled was the evening out with a friend at Wagner's. This is a rather remarkable Appelwoi (apple wine) restaurant with a long tradition, which I discovered about thanks to Wallpaper's timely Frankfurt profile in the March edition.


    Fire on Jamaica

    Watch my nephew Tomi's first full length Playmobil movie Fire on Jamaica, a tale of treason and heroism! More details in his Tomiland blog.


    The battle of Switzerland

    Read this great summary by Kirk about the Battle of Switzerland, which seems to have been raging in the columns of the Financial Times recently. I'd like to think that this post has been provoked by a comment of yours truly to an earlier post of Kirk's.

    P.S. I'll be looking at Switzerland from abroad again. I am going to Frankfurt until Saturday.

    Boot Camp

    To quote my esteemed colleague, Captain Hook, Windows as of now is old, alone, done for. Apple's Boot Camp, to be officially featured in Leopard and available as a Beta download today, will open a whole new market segment for Macs, as witnessed by my nephew R who just agreed to buy one now that Windows runs on Macs, too. I think I'll have to say good bye to my PowerBook rather sooner than later, I am afraid. There's only two things I want now: to be able to boot Windows in an OS X window (the way it was in Virtual PC before that app was snatched by MSFT), and obviously Mac configurations with much larger hard drives! Oh, and a smaller MacBook Pro, for good measure ...

    Insidious! Thanks Joel!


    Until it hurts

    Great! Thanks to this article, I rediscovered Alain Finkielkraut, French philosopher extraordinaire by whom I read Die Niederlage des Denkens a long time ago. Despite of his apparent technophobe conservatism, he even has a podcast - or make that: his weekly radio show Répliques is also podcast (is this a new irregular verb??).

    Finkielkraut is one of those rare thinkers who dare think against the grain of consensus of their peers and therefore he gets a lot of flak. I like that: Viel Feind, viel Ehr! (Much enemy, much honour!)


    Thousands of errors

    The US Secretary of State's recent Chatham House Lecture is quite remarkable for several reasons. For starters, although Ms. Rice puts on her academic hat, she makes some rather surprising assertions. Boldly going back in history to the age of Enlightenment, where no member of the Bush administration has been before, she discovers the UK and the US to be very "similar" countries. Secondly, she talks about liberal democracies and liberalism with a capital 'L', referring not to the Democratic Party, but rather to classical liberalism as it is still widely referred to in Europe. By this, I am very pleasantly surprised! But then, she goes on to spoil the favourable impression by revealing some of her understanding of aforementioned democracies, quoting Thomas Leviathan Hobbes as an eminent theoretician of liberalism. Yikes!

    Last, but not least, she admits to having made thousands of tactical errors in Iraq, while brazenly maintaining of course that the strategic decision will, in retrospect, be validated. Be that as it may - I am afraid that there remains an indisputable nexus between the strategic and the tactical level to the extend that tactical errors, committed in their thousands, will put even the best of strategies at risk. Summing up, I would have expected a less dilettantic address from this particular Secretary of State.


    Microsoft buys OpenOffice

    After having been had pretty badly (the documentation of this will appear as a podcast shortly), I am glad to have identified this one straight away. Too bad they're not elaborating on it some more before disclosing it officially.